Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Managing Stress-Related Disorders, Part 3: Adrenal Extract

The endocrine system is like a house of cards. It is an interwoven system where all the individual components are interdependent. It is therefore difficult to affect one area of it without tripping off the whole thing. That is important in understanding adrenal fatigue, because the stress on the adrenals could actually be caused by another malfunctioning system, such as that of blood sugar metabolism. But that is a discussion for another day.

In the last post I talked about hypercortisolemia, where the cortisol is in a chronic state of elevation and the patient manifests with anxiety, restless sleep, irritability, etc. When that state goes on long enough, soon the adrenal glands begin to fatigue and the cortisol drops off. Since we need a certain amount of cortisol for normal function, a lack of it can cause terrible fatigue, low libido, a loss of drive and motivation, and eventually inflammation.

For this post, let’s focus on treating low cortisol with the use of adrenal glandulars.

Glandular Therapy for Adrenal Support
The concept of using animal tissues in treatment of disease and support of health is a controversial one in medicine, with opinions ranging from useless to miraculous. On the one hand, we have thyroid hormones, insulin, and estrogens, for example, which are used routinely. On the other hand, we have extracts of tissues from glands such as adrenal, pancreas, pituitary, thyroid, etc, which can be taken orally to help support those same tissues in humans.

The argument against using glandulars as supplements is that it is simplistic to think that eating an animal’s glands would help strengthen one’s own like glands. From a medical perspective, one should be able to measure the hormone activity of any substances used and monitor their effects in the body. Glandulars, however, are usually measured by the amount of the actual glands present, but we do not really know what they do. Further, since these glands are broken down into their basic nutrients in the digestive tract, many believe that they would not necessarily go directly to improve one’s own glands.

The pro argument is that it is likely that the basic components of those gland tissues may offer the precursor substances that our own bodies and glands can use to enhance their functions. And there may be hidden factors that may offer some benefit. The glands, like foods, supply basic nutrients, such as amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, other active substances, and a potential "life force," for lack of a better term, where a drug will not. Some evidence from radioisotope studies suggests that glands, when eaten, do in fact influence the function of the human glands.

In modern medicine, glandular therapy began in the late nineteenth century when physicians suggested that their patients eat the animal parts, usually from cows, that corresponded to the weak areas of their own bodies. So people began eating brains, hearts, kidneys, and so on as part of their medical treatment.

Actually, glandular therapy began much earlier than this, as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians used it following their basic premise that "like heals like." Technology and medical endocrinology evolved this therapy by isolating specific hormones at the source of the glands’ activities (just as we extracted the active pharmaceutical drugs from whole plants). These new drugs are more potent, but they also have more potential for dangerous side effects than the whole glands.

For example, desiccated thyroid gland was first utilized in the late 1800s to help people with goiter and low thyroid function. Then thyroxine (T4) was isolated and used, but many doctors still preferred the whole gland as it was felt to be better absorbed and utilized by the body. Later, the other thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and calcitonin were discovered, but these were always part of the whole gland. Today, both individual synthetic hormones and measured active thyroid tissue are used to support or replace thyroid activity.

In the early 1920s, insulin was isolated by Sir Frederick Banting and Charles H. Best, who received the Nobel Prize for their discovery. Insulin has been a lifesaver for many diabetics, but it is also a potentially dangerous drug because it has such a narrow range of safe uses. Overdoses can cause very low blood sugar and shock. Insulin is destroyed in the gut, so it must be injected. It is possible that when extracts of pancreatic tissue are used as supplements, as with other glands, certain molecules protect the active hormones from the digestive juices, and some of these substances actually get into the body. The whole pancreas gland, which had previously been used, is certainly safer than insulin, but pancreas itself is not thought to be strong enough to treat diabetes once it is established.

In the case of treating conditions associated with adrenal fatigue, adrenal glandulars are often suggested for people who experience fatigue, stress, environmental sensitivities or allergies, infections, and hypoglycemia. The symptoms that come from low blood sugar are probably more related to adrenal than to pancreas, and supporting the adrenals with freeze-dried adrenal at 50–100 mg twice daily, along with other stress-supporting nutrients, such as the B vitamins, may be helpful. For extremely low cortisol, some physicians find it useful to super-dose with as much as a gram of adrenal glandular with B-vitamins for a period of a few days to kick start the adrenals back to optimal function. This approach would not be recommended for someone who has elevated cortisol, but could be very helpful for those who are experiencing the overwhelming symptoms of low cortisol.

In my 15+ years in this industry, I have come to rely heavily upon third party data, but have also learned to not rule out clinical experience even when research is lacking. And the clinical experience of hundreds of physicians points to the fact that adrenal extracts works extremely well in treating adrenal fatigue and the associated maladies.

In the next post I’ll introduce you to some other very powerful options from the plant kingdom in supporting the HPA axis and sluggish adrenals.